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The Economist's sad hack job about German energy policy

by Jerome a Paris Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 06:05:43 AM EST

"THE quieter the evening, the more you hear it," says Wilfried Bockholt, mayor of Niebüll in North Friesland. He mimics the sound of a 55-metre-long rotor whirling round a windmill's mast. He is a driving force behind the "citizens' wind park", but he has mixed feelings. A region famed for broad horizons is now jagged with white spires. "They alter the landscape completely," he laments.

Wind is noisy and ugly. Thus, originally (not) starts the Economist's most recent piece about the energy transition currently taking place in Germany.

I'd note here that the writing is technically sloppy, as I'm not sure what a 55-metre-long rotor is - is is the blades that are 55m long, or the overall rotor's diameter? In either case, it could have led to more interesting notes: in one case (a 55m rotor), it means the turbines are in the 600kW range and the wind park was built more than 15 years ago (which is plausible given the location), and it might have led to some interesting conclusions on the long term reliability of wind turbines, and the economics of such a wind farm today. In the other case (55m blades), we are talking about top of the range 3+MW turbines installed very recently, and it might be worth discussing the fact that such industrial-scale turbines are being installed by a "citizen's wind park" ie a cooperative effort, owned by local people who benefit directly from it.

But no, wind is noisy (which, by the way, is certainly not true of new turbines) and ugly. The stage is set.

North Friesland's wind boom is part of Germany's Energiewende (energy transformation), a plan to shift from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewables. It was dreamed up in the 1980s, became policy in 2000 and sped up after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. That led Angela Merkel, the chancellor, to scrap her extension of nuclear power (rather than phasing it out by 2022, as previous governments had planned). She ordered the immediate closure of seven reactors. Germany reaffirmed its clean-energy goals--greenhouse-gas emissions are to be cut from 1990 levels by 40% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050--but it must now meet those targets without nuclear power.

The rest of the world watches with wonder, annoyance--and anticipatory Schadenfreude.

So, a 30-year industrial policy is mocked because a few nuclear reactors are closed a few years earlier than expected? And no mention of all the people who are watching with jealousy that industrial - and environmental - policy can still be made to happen on such a scale over such a long period...

Rather than stabilising Europe's electricity, Germany plagues neighbours by dumping unpredictable surges of wind and solar power.

Hmm - if anything, neighbors have welcome the stop of nuclear plants as an opportunity to sell more electricity to Germany, at a higher price. Neighbors, like Germany's utilities, have been moaning about wind's impact on prices (it brings them down, not up), but that would not fit with the narrative of costly subsidized energy so that point is conveniently ignored...

And, during the cold snap this winter, it was actually German solar that helped Germany remain a net exporter to nuclear-rich France (hint - nuclear plants don't really help during demand peaks, by definition they provide no peak capacity)...


Again, wind and solar are intermittent, which is not the same thing as unpredictable. Wind and solar can actually be predicted much better than demand, so variations fall within the parameters of what the system already has to cope with on a daily basis... A lot has been made about the fact that grids are now encountering more "alerts" (ie situations requiring active intervention by network control centers), but here's another factoid: grid engineers are actually enjoying their work for the first time in decades: they have real engineering challenges to deal with, and they are finding ways to solve them. Developers and others tell me about National Grid (the UK grid operator)'s excellent responsiveness to their queries and even their willingness to come up with new ideas on how to manger the grid.


To many the Energiewende is a lunatic gamble with the country's manufacturing prowess. But if it pays off Germany will have created yet another world-beating industry, say the gamblers. Alone among rich countries Germany has "the means and will to achieve a staggering transformation of the energy infrastructure", says Mark Lewis, an analyst at Deutsche Bank.

What do you mean, "will have created"? Has the writer taken the time to look at how big the industry is already?


Much could go wrong. Wholesale electricity prices will be 70% higher by 2025, predicts the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Germany must build or upgrade 8,300km (5,157 miles) of transmission lines (not including connections to offshore wind farms). Intermittent wind and sun power creates a need for backup generators, while playing havoc with business models that justify investing in them. Hans-Peter Keitel, president of the Federation of German Industry, likens the Energiewende to "open-heart surgery".

Given that wind's main impact on power prices (thanks to the merit order effect, also called the "cannibalisation effect" by RWE) is to bring them down, it usually turns out that most studies noting or predicting higher power prices have, at root, "interesting" assumptions about gas prices. The gross cost of the feed-in tariffs in Germany is inversely proportional to the assumptions for the price of natural gas and could indeed lead to such increases and if gas prices are assumed to remain very low over very long periods. Conversely, high future power prices can also be caused (as in practice in recent years) by increasing gas prices and if the merit-order effect of wind is not taken into account!

Saying that renewables are expensive in comparison to currently ultra-cheap US natural gas (because that's usually the assumption behind low gas prices in Europe: domestic shale gas + LNG imports from the US) is a rather big assumption to make, and certainly one worth mentioning...


In May Mrs Merkel sacked the environment minister, Norbert Röttgen, after he led her Christian Democrats to a disastrous defeat in a regional election. His successor is Peter Altmaier, a canny parliamentarian who will share responsibility with the economy minister, Philipp Rösler. In fact Mrs Merkel has taken charge herself. She convenes energy summits with leaders of the 16 states, and promises to incorporate grid operators' plans into federal law by the end of the year. But even she admits the Energiewende is a "Herculean task".

The plan will require two transformations, one micro and one macro. The first is an unruly, subsidy-fed explosion of wind, solar and biomass power, a "strange mixture of idealism and greed," as one energy boss calls it. The second is the effort to pull this into a system providing reliable and affordable electricity.

People following incentives in oil&gas is "the market at work" - but in renewable energy it's an "unruly subsidy-fed explosion" as if regulations and taxes (or lack thereof) in one case were good and in another case evil. But never mind, let's keep on repeating that renewable energy is subsidized, and let's forget about the externalities caused by the other sources of energy...


Protagonists of the micro version see themselves as democratising economic and political power. The renewable-energy law entitles anybody who puts in a solar panel or a windmill to sell surplus power to the grid, receiving a generous "feed-in tariff" guaranteed over 20 years. This gives renewable electricity priority over conventional power. Not surprisingly, renewables grew ten times faster than the OECD average from 1990 to 2010 and now account for 20% of electricity output (see chart). The government's target is 35% by 2020. Germany gets more electricity from renewable sources than any other big country.

The feed-in tariffs in Germany are not "generous" (that word is yet more propaganda), they are actually quite stingy - they are not inflated (compared to what happens in most other countries, which is a rather big difference when you are looking at 15-20 years of revenues and, compared to other support mechanisms (like the market-based "green certificates), they are demonstrably cheaper to finance, which makes renewable energy much cheaper to produce in the long run. They are simple, easy for small players to understand (and thus harder for big players to game) and have been highly stable. Solar tariffs have been a bit harder to fine-tune, given the rapid technological progress in that sector, but it can be argued that Germany has done a pretty decent job over all of avoiding windfall gains to developers without killing the sector as has happened in other countries - and that comes from having a clear long term policy (support the sector and make it competitive), people that understand its economics (and not just one side of the issue as too many journalists, influenced by partial lobbyists, seem prone to) and, yes, a sense of purpose.

The return on capital can top 20% a year in the best spots. But do not confuse harvesters of sun and wind with electricity plutocrats. "One important goal is to break the monopoly" of the four big power companies that dominate the market, says Hermann Albers, president of the Federal Wind Energy Association. Municipal utility companies plan to boost their share of electricity production from a tenth to at least a fifth by 2020. More than 100 municipalities want to be "100% renewable".

The number of "energy co-operatives" has risen sixfold since 2007, to 586 last year. Solar parks have migrated from farms and family houses to apartment blocks. "Roof exchanges" match owners with investors. Niebüll allows only wind farms in which residents can buy stakes, lest landowners become local fat cats and others rebel against the project. In 2010 over 50% of renewable-energy capacity was in the hands of individuals or farmers, according to trend:research, a consultancy. The big four had just 6.5%.

This is perking up sleepy regions. Farmers are likelier to remain on the land. Services, from consultants who guide investors through the subsidy jungle to specialist windmill repairmen, have taken root in towns. The taxes paid by Niebüll's wind park are one of the town's main sources of revenue; in smaller settlements they may be almost the only local source.

The micro-level works almost too well. Schleswig-Holstein plans to generate three times as much renewable energy as it consumes and to export the surplus south and west. Southern states are keen to produce their own renewable power, too. Bavaria talks of self-sufficiency. The states' windpower targets add up to double the federal government's goal of 36 gigawatts by 2020.

For a couple of paragraphs, the real story of renewables: it's been largely done at the local level, and that is even more true in Germany than anywhere else in the world . There is a reason why the support policies are so popular - a lot of people see it happening, and indeed make it happen, on their doorstep (or on their rooftops).

But that makes it work "too well"...


Solar power, which consumes half the total subsidy but provides just a fifth of renewable electricity, is racing ahead of target. The Energiewende raises costs, unsettles supply and provokes resistance at grass-roots level. The system coped with the first influx of renewable energy, says Rainer Baake, who heads a lobby group called Agora Energiewende. But the next 20% will require a transformation.

Yes, solar had more progress to make, so early tariffs were quite high - but the story here is how production prices (and thus the tariffs needed for new projects- have tumbled down - as was hoped for - with a few years of consistent supportive policies that accepts the costs in the difficult period when the sector begins to be big enough to matter (and its cost to be visible) but not yet mature to be competitive enough. Germany seems to have gone through that period - and it should be noted that Germany's tariffs have benefited the whole planet as solar technology is now cheaper for everybody - in effect, countries like the US or the UK are free-riders of Germany energy policy.


One fight is over who will pay. The most energy-intensive consumers are shielded from the feed-in tariff, leaving ordinary folk, including pensioners and the unemployed, to foot the bill. The nuclear shutdown pushed up industry's electricity bills relative to its competitors, argues Annette Loske of VIK, which represents big consumers. The political assault on their exemption undermines the confidence they need to invest. An even bigger worry is supply interruptions, which can disrupt factories even if they last for fractions of a second. VIK says they have risen 30% in the past three years. The odds of outright power cuts have jumped.

Again, the merit order effect is ignored. Large users have no reason to complain about the energy transition, and polls show that the population remains massively supportive of the system (but hey, let's try anyway to pit "pensioners and the unemployed" against renewables - funny to note when the Economist cares about the unemployed and the pensioners...)

As to supply interruptions, a rise of 30% is meaningless - from what base, to how many clients, in what circumstances? This is a good exemple of a malicious meaningless statistic.


Renewables can depress wholesale prices, eg, when the sun creates a midday jolt. This discourages investors in the flexible, gas-powered generation needed to provide backup for windless, cloudy days. "The market dynamics are completely destroyed," says Peter Terium, boss of RWE, one of the big four. There is talk of paying generators to offer capacity, not supply power. But such payments would add another subsidy distortion to the market.

Oh, the merit order effect finally discussed? Nope, this whole paragraph means to create more confusion through, yes I'll say it, outright lying (I will not believe incompetence in the Economist, not yet).

1- first, the merit order effect is not just a "midday jolt" - it's an effect that takes place throughout the day and depresses prices on a large scale;

2- the biggest losers of such effect are not the flexible plants, it's the exact opposite: it's the other "price takers: nuclear plants, coal-fired plants, and base load gas prices. All of these (the core business of the big utilities) see the prices they get mot of the day go down, and they lose income.

3- The flexible plants - the gas peakers  and hydro - will actually make more money as they are asked to support the system balance in new ways as renewables take a bigger part of the system. There is a known business model for peakers, functioning a few % of the time only, and it applies even more now.

4- Capacity payments are not a "subsidy" - they are a payment for a real service to the grid - the ability to provide MW on demand and on short notice. This can be paid through high peak prices or other service agreements at the behest of the grid (for "spinning reserves"), but they are a physical requirement of the system which needs to be paid for. Having renewables in the system has made the need more explicit, but it's not new. And one should note that nuclear is largely unable to provide that service...

So that paragraph packs a mass of lies or confusion - on purpose?


The €20 billion national-grid plan is another macro-project meant to channel micro-level exuberance. It assumes that the biggest need will be to supply northern wind power to southern and western consumers. Yet if so, perhaps renewables should be tempered elsewhere. "We have to synchronise infrastructure and renewables", by allowing new wind and solar projects only where the grid can take delivery of what they produce, says Stephan Kohler, head of the German Energy Agency. Upgrading the grid, to beyond Germany as well as within it, would reduce waste and the risk of instability.

But the vision is contested. Expansion of the grid has been thwarted by bureaucrats' inertia, politicians' foot dragging and activism by those who hate transmission masts as much as they do nuclear power. Even upgrades to existing lines can mobilise opposition, as in Quickborn, south of Niebüll. Hard-core decentralists deny that power must be transmitted over long distances. "You can put the grid development plan directly in the bin," says Matthias Willenbacher of Juwi, a big builder of solar and wind projects. Bavaria's aspirations encourage such hopes. When the federal government tried to speed up cuts in the feed-in tariff for solar power, several states put up a fight, forcing a partial retreat. The renewables lobby, like the industrial one, demands stable investment conditions. Solar power will be competitive without subsidies by 2020, the solar lobby insists.

Germany is groping for a mix of top-down direction-setting and bottom-up buy-in for its Energiewende to work. The federal government may limit foes of transmission projects to one court challenge. But consultation with citizens is vital, reckons Mr Matthiessen. TenneT, which operates the grid in Schleswig-Holstein, wants to extend the wind park idea to the transmission network, offering stakes in a line along the west coast. But Mr Bockholt, Niebüll's mayor, sounds a warning: Schleswig-Holstein's plans to harvest its wealth of wind will soon "reach the limits of what is tolerable".

Oh, evil greens blocking the hard work serious people put in making the crazy ideas of the greens work...
Yes, the grid needs to adapt. Yes, it's messy, but yes it's actually happening - but no, not overnight, and thankfully it does not need to happen overnight...


It is hard to think of a messier and more wasteful way of shifting from fossil and nuclear fuel to renewable energy than the one Germany has blundered into.

Hmm, let's see:

  • the UK's wasteful ROCs, and the desperate efforts by its current government to put in place a FiT which does not look like a FiT (and will thus be more complicated, more expensive and easier to game by the big players)?
  • The US's absurd stop-and-go PTC policy, which has already killed the wind industry 4 times in the past 10 years?
  • The various brutal cuts in solar tariffs across Europe, which have damaged local industries without fully preventing windfall effects?

It's actually hard to find a more coherent, cheap and effective policy than the German one, for renewable energy.


The price will be high, the risks are large and some effects will be the opposite of what was intended. Greenhouse-gas emissions are likely to be higher than they would have been for quite a while to come.

As one would note "citation needed"...


But that does not mean the entire enterprise will fail. Politicians cannot reinvent the Energiewende on the run, but they can stay a step ahead of the risks and push back against the costs--and they are beginning to do so. In the end Germany itself is likely to be transformed.

What costs? Again, let's pretend that it's all been negative to date, that the German wind manufacturing and solar installation industry don't exist, that wholesale prices are no higher than the neighbors', and that there's actually a large chunk of carbon-free kWhs produced by the system. It's a "costly" policy.

Sad to read all that in that magazine.

Display:
The dinosaurs do thrash about in their death throes. Lies and distortions are the currency in trade, as you so ably pick apart.

The conventional fuel industry continues to see the world from the golden days of hundred year-old monopolies and unlimited cheap fossils. That the grid itself is already changing into the power equivalent of the internet is beyond their capacity to fathom.

Sadly, it's likely to take another energy and/or climate shock or two before the people for whom The Economist is shilling realize that it's already a new day.

Then again, the ostensible magazine is not attempting to define reality. It is vicious propaganda, pure and simple.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon Jul 30th, 2012 at 02:22:59 PM EST
As if to underscore Mr. á Paris' points, take a look at the actual vs. planned production for a very changeable weather day throughout Germany. Notice that both solar and wind outperformed their estimates, while the conventional grid chugged along, likely sending export prices lower.

EEX here.

(can't copy the graphs.)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon Jul 30th, 2012 at 02:37:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and thank you for a new (to me) source of data. I was not familiar with EEX.
by jam on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 09:45:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Same kind of "spin" in France too: a few weeks ago, the French Senate published a report on energy forecasts.

The only parts that have been emphasized by the media are that the French consumers electricity bill will increase by 50% by 2020. And whose fault is that? Why, its' the "subsidies hungry" renewables; this is what most people will remember.

by Bernard on Mon Jul 30th, 2012 at 04:17:37 PM EST
Most of the incumbent industries' propaganda bells are rung here. Which means "that magazine" is not in favour of healthy competition or a free market, but is lined up with vested interests.

Who Could Have Predicted?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jul 30th, 2012 at 04:31:35 PM EST
The economist is like any other news media, people buy it more to have their prejudices reinforced than to be more widely informed. Thus this article falls nicely into that niche.

Of course, it is worrying that a magazine which is widely read amongst the political elite is really just a neoliberal propaganda unit but, ultimately, this says more about the general cluelessness of the people who read it than it does about the industry it describes.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 02:40:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the case of hogwash talked about renewables, I don't think people at large had these "prejudices" to start with. They are the result of lobbying and PR campaigns spreading carefully-crafted poison. Of course, being carefully crafted by communications professionals, they feed into pre-existing frames. But a lot of the precise points made in this article were not in people's minds a decade ago. Examples: subsidies, intermittence, ugliness.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 08:30:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i believe you're correct with regard to continental Yurp, but for sure the arguments of subsidies, intermittence, ugliness were very present in the orchestrated Country Guardian campaign in England going back nearly two decades. Some of the memes seem to have taken hold here on the continent now, though they were present in the past elsewhere (like France) to some degree as well.

Did the article leave out the bird straw dog?

The anti-wind propaganda campaign is orchestrated now precisely because in several key markets, wind has achieved "critical mass"  ;-)  as an industry, as an employer, and as an export model. And as a reliable generator of electricity.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 09:35:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, the UK countryside protectors go back further. But in France I find the spread of anti-wind ideas is fairly recent. I'm now at the point where, when I see somebody I can reliably expect to be all for reducing GHG emissions (whether they are pro- or anti-nuke), I can be pretty sure that if I say "wind" they will turn out to be against, even virulently against.

Yes, you're right, the progress of renewables is the reason for increased intensity in the anti campaign. But the memes didn't pop up totally spontaneously...

I didn't see any mention of one-horned goats in the article. Nor of straw dogs, nor links to organized crime. We should write to the Economist to set the record straight.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 11:42:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The economist is like any other news media, people buy it more to have their prejudices reinforced than to be more widely informed.

Well it's not true of ET right?

by njh on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 11:10:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right. No, wrong. Well...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 11:43:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If only we were paid as much as Econo-hacks.

Also, ET's success as a relentless engine of propaganda for the Great Liberal Conspiracy seems somewhat limited to date.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 12:26:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A mix of both, to be sure.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 12:05:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My right wing friends (yes I have some) sometimes tell me that there is too much group think and homogeneity of ideas on ET. Then I tell them I'm usually in a minority on the site :)


Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 12:28:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean there's more than one path to a sustainable present?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 01:40:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tell them they don't notice the groupthink and homogeneity of ideas that are out there in general, because they happen to coincide with their views.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 04:18:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe we should re-do the political compass of ET and see if it has changed.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 04:45:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are more dog-whistles in that questionnaire than I remember.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 05:13:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Economic Left/Right: -9.00
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.18
by jam on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 10:40:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting:



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 01:50:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How did they get these values?

res humà m'és aliè
by Antoni Jaume on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 02:12:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Possibly from public statements by the governments?

If you are not convinced, try it on someone who has not been entirely debauched by economics. — Piero Sraffa
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 03:58:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where is a copy of the last version of the ET political compass? (IIRC it was on the ET wiki [RIP].)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 04:49:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Found it!

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 05:10:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and I find myself this time at:

Economic Left/Right: -9.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.21

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 02:00:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where do you find out what your numbers are?
by sgr2 on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 05:55:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the site The Political Compass. Also, direct link to the test.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 06:39:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
mine -8.25, -5.49

res humà m'és aliè
by Antoni Jaume on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 07:21:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha. I feared I might be tending centrist, what with incipient old age and everything.

Economic Left/Right: -7.62
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.10

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 08:13:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Pff. Splitter.

-9.00
-8.27

by generic on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 08:27:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 -9.75,  -8.51
by Katrin on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 09:27:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Moved to the Left on economics since the last time I took it:

-9.12, -6.46

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 11:37:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've moved left and down.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:23:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I think.

Yikes, no wonder I have problems fitting in. My score doesn't look like anybody else who has posted theirs. I seem to be way out there in bottom left field. Just for some perspective, if either afew or melo are around and can recall their numbers, could you please post them? I'm just curious if I'm in bad man's land all by myself or if I might have some company somewhere, anywhere nearby.

by sgr2 on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:05:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The 2006 results can be seen in the chart.

But many appears to have moved (from comments here, not a rigorous analysis).

How do we evaluate the results? If Mig is up to it, making another graph would give some idea.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:27:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's my new score.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 01:20:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I seem to be way out there in bottom left field.

Hm? Amost everyone on ET is in the bottom left field.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 04:09:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well yes, but no.

Comparing the location of my dot on the graph on the test result at the Political Compass site with the position of names on the ET Political Compass previously posted, my "dot" would appear to be located a little left of you (somewhere between you and afew), and on about the same level as a swedish kind of death; yet the numbers make no sense at all.     -3.62 and -6.31?

by sgr2 on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 04:48:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you noted that the ET-graph (from 2006) is not evenly scaled?

-3.62 economic and -6.31 social lands you near MarekNYC (whom we have not seen for some time).

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 06:20:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Note that the ET graph has 0,0 as the upper right hand corner while the Political Compass has 10,10 as the upper right hand corner. In other words, ET is located entirely within the lower left hand quadrant of the Political Compass!
by jam on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 09:02:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
IIRC, Migeru had trouble getting the individual dots and names to be separately readable, hence a large image of the bottom left quadrant and an adapted scale.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 09:31:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for pointing that out. Now it makes more sense.  
by sgr2 on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 01:44:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you asked, madame?

The Political Compass - Test

Economic Left/Right: -8.38
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.38


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 02:39:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a bit stupid, e.g. "A significant advantage of a one-party state is that it avoids all the arguments that delay progress in a democratic political system."

It is true that this is significant advantage.  Doesn't mean I think it's a good idea.

by njh on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:30:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It has - I think - a broad target audience. And it is also a bit US-centric (then again, our world is US-centric).

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:40:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I beg to differ: I'm not sure avoiding all the arguments is an advantage. The state will go ahead with a lot more stupid, dangerous or evil schemes.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 04:11:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the context was "delay". Participation costs a lot of time.
by Katrin on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 04:59:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Guess I'm still a hippy, dippy.
by ElaineinNM on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 05:24:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But my point is that haste makes waste. It's no advantage when the undelayed reaction to a nuclear disaster or earthquake is a media blackout, or the quick reaction to low grain yield is requisition from the farmers for the army to the point that they'll die of famine, or if the quick reaction to a sovereign debt crisis is the imposition of the crazy ideological policies of some boys from Chicago.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 02:47:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course it's an advantage, just not for you or me. That's the whole point of a one-party system, though: it's an advantage for someone. "advantage" depends on the point of view. I'm completely with you that it's not desirable or an advantage for the 99%, though.
by Katrin on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 04:53:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not even an advantage for the powers-that-be if the result is not what was planned. The Chernobyl media blackout brought a blowback in the form of public distrust and outrage from other countries reached by the plume. The famine engineered by Stalin in the Ukraine killed off the farmers who would work the fields to produce grain the next year. In Pinochet's Chile, there were beneficiaries of the initial bubble, but the lack of the expected growth (and expected rise in tax incomes to be spent on pet projects like military equipment) wasn't what the regime dreamt about.  

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 05:11:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, possibly. I note though that your examples aren't examples for "hasty decisions with result that wasn't planned". Which countries or who were outraged about the Chernobyl media blackout? Only the usual suspects of anti-nuke-protesters. And was it really a decision that is very much different from that in a liberal democracy such as Japan? The Ukrainian famine: probably not sufficiently explained by "hasty" decisions turning out to have unintended results. Nobody in the ruling oligarchy dared to raise objections. The ruling oligarchy was not capable of a rational decision. And Pinochet's Chile: what was unintended?

Even if there examples of the speed of undemocratic decisions backfiring for the ruling oligarchy, I think it is rather the exception and not the rule.

by Katrin on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 08:50:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
-6.8, -6. Not much change.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 08:34:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does this mean you are right, or unable to change?
by njh on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 11:53:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Clicky.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 07:20:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.
by sgr2 on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 11:03:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Economic Left/Right: -7.25
 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.18

I should be -6/-6. I think the questions press one into a strongly agree /strongly disagree direction. And somehow there seem to be few economic questions and virtually none on ecology.

by IM on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 02:04:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I agree on the lack of subtlety. I would probably be more centrist on economic issues with more pertinent questions.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 05:18:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other end of the scale, too: I felt right-wing/authoritarian opinions were tested with too many fascist positions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 05:52:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]




It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 08:35:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Haven't taken this test yet, but predict I will be somewhere on the red zone in the left.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:19:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
> I think the questions press one into a strongly
> agree /strongly disagree direction.

Depends on political position. My result was -2, -1,38 and I found many questions hard to answer.

by Jute on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 06:34:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a centrist!

Welcome! No irony.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 08:25:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For some reason centrists seem to be underrepresented in political and economic discussion forums.
by Jute on Thu Aug 9th, 2012 at 09:03:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Feel free to remedy that!

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Aug 9th, 2012 at 09:26:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
-9.75, -8.97.

I click on "strongly" a lot....

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 10:16:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I find that the debate of ideas is vastly improved when contrary views are expressed, and I often see evidence of sloppy thinking on ET. The problem is that the role of "loyal opposition", or token right-winger, is a somewhat thankless one, and nobody lasts too long in it.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 04:13:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I also appreciate the ideological confrontations here, as they sharpen arguments.
Civility is tested, but it's a small price for diversity.  

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 05:31:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I always upvote contrary viewpoints that are well argued (indeed if I gave you an upvote it probably means I think you're wrong :).  If we all did that we might prevent groupthink etc.
by njh on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:39:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, ET is definitely a good place "to be more widely informed", whether you like it or not :) and whether you were looking for information in the first place: it's a (welcome) by product. As for your prejudices, there's a good chance they might be thoroughly challenged as much as reinforced...
by Bernard on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 03:25:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Certainly the "groupthink", "conventional wisdom" or however you like to characterize it, is quite a long way from that which you encounter elsewhere.

It is one thing to be sourly cynical about the motivations and knowledge of the elite decision makers (my own personal forte), it is another to consistently offer different perspectives which demonstrate there are real and preferable alternatives to the idiocies on display.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 03:07:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
'm shocked, shocked!
by rifek on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 12:22:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the slavering hound licks the greasy hand that feeds it.

the intellectual dishonesty in this puff piece is blistering, as per.

they are mass murderers, the big energy/utility companies, busy with eco-cide.

which will happen first? will enough people righteously excoriate this propaganda, as J does so surgically here?

or will these a-holes just run out of gas, all credibility exhausted?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jul 30th, 2012 at 08:39:38 PM EST

Nuclear `hard to justify', says GE chief

Nuclear power is so expensive compared with other forms of energy that it has become "really hard" to justify, according to the chief executive of General Electric, one of the world's largest suppliers of atomic equipment.

"It's really a gas and wind world today," said Jeff Immelt, referring to two sources of electricity he said most countries are shifting towards as natural gas becomes "permanently cheap".




Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 05:14:31 AM EST
Interesting article. If you follow to the Bloomberg article referred there, it can be read:


From 2004 to Q3 2008, the price of PV modules remained approximately flat at $3.50-$4.00/W,
despite manufacturers making continuous improvements in technology and scale to reduce their
costs. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the German, and then Spanish, tariff
incentives allowed project developers to buy the technology at this price, coupled with a shortage
of polysilicon that constrained production and prevented effective pricing competition.
The 18
largest quoted solar companies followed by Bloomberg made average operating margins of
14.6%-16.3% from 2005 to 20083.

Consequently, both polysilicon companies and downstream manufacturers expanded rapidly.
When the Spanish incentive regime ended abruptly at the end of September 2008, global demand
stayed roughly flat at 7.7 GW in 2009, from 6.7 GW in 2008, while polysilicon availability
increased at least 32%; enough to make 8.5 GW of modules, with an additional 1.6GW of thin
film production. As a consequence of this sudden need to compete on price, wafer and module
makers gave up some of their margins, and the price fell rapidly from $4.00/W in 2008 to
$2.00/W in 2009.
The ability of manufacturers to drop their prices by 50%, and still make a
positive operating margin, was due to the reductions in costs achieved over the previous four
years, driven by scale and advances in wafer, cell and module manufacturing processes, as well as
to improved performance resulting from better cell efficiencies and lower electrical conversion
losses (Wesoff, 2012).

(bold mine)

This can either be seen as an argument for a "free-market" approach, or alternatively the state gives the initial boost to help establish industrial critical mass and then market forces can operate. A bit like the "Internet" model where the (US) state reasearched and built the infrastructure and then, with critical mass, the market could then enter.

If it is technologically underdeveloped and capital intensive, the initial boost might be critical.

by cagatacos on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 06:55:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This can either be seen as an argument for a "free-market" approach, or alternatively the state gives the initial boost to help establish industrial critical mass and then market forces can operate.

Or, it can be seen as a negation of the "free-market" frame: the state and the market were both present throughout. The part I would have bolded was this:

The ability of manufacturers to drop their prices by 50%, and still make a positive operating margin, was due to the reductions in costs achieved over the previous four years, driven by scale and advances in wafer, cell and module manufacturing processes

The cost reductions due to scale were the result of large volumes, thanks to the framework set by the state (the stable markets and the feed-in tariffs). The technology development was due to competition between producers on this separated market.

The uneven market price reduction you describe is more indicative of haphazard state policy than any transition from some state-dominated to a market-dominated regime. Contrary to what the article claims, the Spanish incentive regime didn't end, it was only changed with massive and differential rate reductions, crashing the market and resulting in an oversupply situation on the world market. The article also omits to mention degression, that is the (usually annual) reduction of feed-in tariffs, a field where Germany and Spain followed a different philosophy: Germany had pre-set degression rates in a law, Spain had rates re-set every year by government decree.

The Spanish feed-in law produced a bubble because it was high enough to make residential rooftop profitable but offered the same rate for large on-ground plants with few restrictions on siting, thus the latter sub-market drew venture capital with high profits. It was right to burst this bubble, but it would have been better to create an orderly transition with multiple smaller rate reductions rather than one big one.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 07:17:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In manufacturing, as in so much, scale matters.

A.  Lot.

Necessary fixed costs of plant and equipment are more or less the same for manufacturing one widget per week as one widget per hour.  Sales price need to cover 52/year versus 2,000/year will obviously have to be greater in the former.

 

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 11:44:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
on what planet is 15% growth (6.7 GW to 7.7 GW) "roughly flat"? In the same period when global oil usage grew at -1%?
by jam on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 09:39:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Natural gas 'permanently cheap' is bollocks.

The price should be held globally at a level necessary to destroy demand, and as much of the resulting surplus as possible should be invested in renewable energy, and in the cheapest energy of all - energy saved.

In order to do this you need to literally monetise energy. Deficit financing and funding simply will not cut it.

IMHO one of the Big Trades of the 21st century will be the value of IP and Knowhow exchanged for the value of carbon fuel saved.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 07:50:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In an offshore article about Vattenfall losing €5.6M from the Thanet project offshore cable glitsch (now solved), i found this:


Vattenfall also announced today that it has submitted an application to Sweden's radiation authority for permission to develop plans for new nuclear power stations. Chief executive Løseth emphasised that the company has not made any binding decisions to pursue new nuclear. "We are just investigating building new nuclear in the Nordic market," he said, adding that there are other options for replacing lost capacity when Sweden's existing nuclear power stations are decommissioned. These options include additional renewables capacity.


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 10:49:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]

2- the biggest losers of such effect are not the flexible plants, it's the exact opposite: it's the other "price takers: nuclear plants, coal-fired plants, and base load gas prices. All of these (the core business of the big utilities) see the prices they get mot of the day go down, and they lose income.

3- The flexible plants - the gas peakers  and hydro - will actually make more money as they are asked to support the system balance in new ways as renewables take a bigger part of the system. There is a known business model for peakers, functioning a few % of the time only, and it applies even more now.

AFAIK, right now, the flexible plants do feel the pain due to renewables, mainly because solar is at the level where it chops off the daytime peak on sunny days but doesn't affect baseload much (unlike wind). So there isn't only a trend to push flexible plants from baseload to intermediate and peak load, but presently there is a reduction of demand for intermediate load. I wrote about this here. Also reported how this development affects plans for a pumped hydro plant, hurts the profits of hard coal plants (which mostly run in the intermediate power regime). As for gas, E.on announced plans to close three older gas plants.

Once wind and solar capacity grows further, the equation may change again to hurt conventional baseload more and give more room to peak power. (But, not necessarily, if natural balancing is significant.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 06:59:07 AM EST
Incidentally, the linked article on the E.on plans to close three gas plants (by German-language renewables news site IWR) includes an interesting tidbit on the supposed need to import balancing power from neighbours to cope with intermittency.

The root of this claim is a couple of much-reported occurrences during the last winter, when wind and solar power were low and an oil-fired power plant in Austria was asked for help. As IWR reports, the actual power loss event during this day that called for the extra peak power was not a fluctuation of wind or solar power, but the unplanned shutdown of a nuclear reactor in southwest Germany (due to the discovery of leaking fuel rods). And the fun fact: the three gas-fired power plants which E.on wants to close, all of which are much closer to the closed nuclear plant than the Austrian peaker plant, stayed on cold reserve during the period!

IWR speculates that this may indicate the unfitness of (older) gas-fired power plants to be on reserve. But there seems to be a much better explanation, something IWR reported in the past, too (a news I linked in a Salon): the federal grid agency found that during one of these electricity shortage periods, speculative traders hoping for higher prices were holding back capacity en masse (reminding of the Enron blackouts).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 07:32:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That last point is really worthy of some more digging and a diary!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 08:17:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Forgot to note here: done.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 10:24:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that it is intermediate plants which are suffering the most - when renewables are producing, there is simply no time window at all when prices are high enough for these plants to operate.

But baseload plants are suffering as well - they get lower prices, on average, than they used to. This is counter-balanced by the increase in gas prices, which means that the base load prices (ie night time) are higher than they used to be, but that helps nukes and coal plants, not the gas-fired plants that actually need to buy that more expensive gas... So gas baseload plants are becoming marginal - or increasing their price.

Some of the utilities are thus moving to convert some of their plants. see this:


UK's SSE idles gas-fired plants on low spark spreads

London, 31 January (Argus) -- UK utility Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) will take its two oldest combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) out of service in late March for extended maintenance and expects both plants to be off line for at least a year.

(...)

SSE's move to mothball gas-fired capacity amid low spark spreads comes after rival UK utility Centrica said in October that it planned to idle its 245MW Barry CCGT and its 340MW Kings Lynn CCGT -- neither of which are among its oldest gas-fired plants -- during the second quarter of 2012.



Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 at 10:47:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This looks like the classic tragedy of the commons. There is a common public good, the reliability of the power supply. The various producers are rewarded only for momentary conditions. The public service they provide or do not provide in case of intermittent sources is not rewarded or punished for.

As long as we have one grid, regulations must make sure that those who provide intermittent supply must subsidize backup capacity.

by oliver on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 07:42:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All power plants provide intermittent supply.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 08:02:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is due to economics, not technological constraints. And they provide it on demand. Wind turbines deliver when the wind blows.
by oliver on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 08:34:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, they don't provide it on demand. There are technical glitches, and these happen unpredictably. Wind, on the other hand, is very predictable.
by Katrin on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 09:15:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is better than unpredictable, but the demand must be met. Any power plant may fail, although failure rates are different. Nevertheless wind can't do it at all.
by oliver on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 11:45:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't do what at all?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 11:58:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind cannot provide controllable output. If the wind does not blow, there is no electricity.

From an economic viewpoint wind is baseload, as the fuel is free. But its reliability is many orders of magnitude lower than in conventional sources.
So essentially the more capacity based on wind you have in the system the more intermediate and peak capacity you need.
But the utilisation of the capacity will go down.

by oliver on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:43:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since some of us have looked at europe-wide super-grid studies for just wind alone, perhaps you could provide us with the studies on which you base the above arguments.

not that anyone in their right mind expect wind to be alone in a sustainable grid.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:53:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, he should define "reliability". The common understanding of the word would be the difference between expected production and actual production. For wind and solar, that would be the difference of the two graphs at the EEX tracking page. However, oliver seems to have mixed up intermittency with that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 03:48:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Physics mixes it up. If more is consumed than produced, power fails. A fully predictable shortfall is still not acceptable.

It is easier to find countermeasures, but that needs more reserves.

by oliver on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 09:23:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But there is plenty of peak capacity. Plenty of plant that currently runs more or less in baseload mode burning fossil fuels. Increased intermittent capacity, whether wind or solar, obviously has to take priority because, as you note, the fuel is free.

All that is required is to lower the average load factor of the fossil fuel plants, i.e. burn less fossil fuels in order to burn more solar and wind. Financial compensations are no doubt needed to those plants, to cover the sunk capital costs.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 09:37:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Physics mixes it up. If more is consumed than produced, power fails.

That's not a mix-up and not physics, but the separate issue of providing balancing capacity to meet the difference of demand and total baseload production. And how does that not apply to conventional baseload? Baseload never meets demand anywhere near 100% of the time, and the difference can be rather big on occasion (be it a cold spell in a region with lots of electric heating boosting demand like in France in February this year, or a total shutdown of 52 nuclear plants following a natural disaster and subsequent safety concerns like in Japan earlier this year).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 06:06:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
whoever asked wind to do it all?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:22:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Theoretically wind could probably "do it all", if the area of your grid is large enough. Nobody intends that though, so why this strawman?
by Katrin on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:31:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, planned shutdowns due to refueling or maintenance are technological constraints, and so are hutdowns due to accidents. And it is a stretch to talk about provision "on demand" in thwe case of baseload plants: baseload plants are good for providing constant power, but demand isn't constant.

So, back to the point, all plants are intermittent, and at least those normally run at the maximum power possible (nuclear, "brown coal", wind, solar, tide, wave) require balancing capacity.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 03:42:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh well. If you insist.

Very well, so conventional plants are intermittent. Yes, but their failures are randomly and independently distributed. This is not true for the main cause of intermittent operations of wind plants. The strength of the wind is quite correlated in large areas.

To counter this very large networks can be used to some degree. However, even under the current conditions, capacities are strained and construction of massive new grid capacities is already meeting stiff resistance.

by oliver on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 09:29:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For the 90th time, wind is not meant to be sole generation, rather a part of a mix of generation and demand-side technologies. Please stop discussing wind as stand-alone generation.

No matter the cause of the stiff resistance to grid upgrades, they would have to be done anyway. Not merely to increase security, but for economic and technical reasons as well. Plus the populace needs to finance a spare parts store, so when a sunstorm or other failure occurs, it can be repaired in weeks rather than many months.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 10:14:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Either it is a significant contributor or it is not. If it is not, we need not bother with subsidies. If it is, the increased variability will have to be compensated for.

As for the necessity of major upgrades I have to note that the current grid with the current generation capability does work very well.

by oliver on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 05:42:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Either it is a significant contributor or it is not.

Nope, it's not that simple, but we are repeating ourselves on this, too. If there is some correlation with other significant non-load-following contributors (and there is: with solar), then it makes no sense to consider its variability isolated.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 06:00:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As for the necessity of major upgrades I have to note that the current grid with the current generation capability does work very well.

Fun fact about networks like currency unions and power grids: If you cheap out of maintenance, routine upgrades and proper design, they will work very well right up until they don't work at all.

Which of course makes it open season for quacks and charlatans. Such as the people who are feeding you your talking points.

The German grid in particular has built up quite a deferred maintenance log since the experiments with open access and unbundling began. Funny how that works, because the rail and telecommunication sectors had precisely the same experience with unbundling.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 07:22:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The German grid in particular has built up quite a deferred maintenance log since the experiments with open access and unbundling began. Funny how that works, because the rail and telecommunication sectors had precisely the same experience with unbundling.

You can certainly argue that these are natural monopolies. And keeping it in the hands of the suppliers doesn't work.

So either only those who own the infrastructure may use it, or it has to be split up fully.

by oliver on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 03:38:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And keeping it in the hands of the suppliers doesn't work.

Why not?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 03:53:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where I note that my own preferences differ for the three named systems:
  • In the electricity sector, I'd like to see a state-oned grid, at least partially state-owned peaker plants and either state-owned legacy plants or a law making closure without compensation for "lost profit" a possibility (thus the state would be the supplier keeping the infrastructure in its hands),
  • In the rail sector, I'd like to see integrated railways, that's more important than whether they are public or private (but I still prefer public) and how large an area they cover (close cooperation can realise the same benefits as a total monopoly).
  • In the telecoms sector, I have no solid opinion, other than seeing the need for strong regulation.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 04:31:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In telecommunications, the historical experience seems to indicate that it is sufficient to have strictly enforced interoperability requirements at all levels (between networks and between phones and networks - none of the American crap where the phone is hardwired to one network). Plus a few ad hoc regulations like number portability and a hard cap on roaming charges.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 01:41:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is designed to create a conflict of interest. The owners are given an incentive to neglect infrastructure, which is partially used to benefit competitors.
by oliver on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 09:46:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Competitors?

EDF and Gazprom have worked fine for decades with no competitors.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 10:37:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The German grid in particular has built up quite a deferred maintenance log since the experiments with open access and unbundling began.

Do you have good sources on this? I only read into the backlog in new construction, and the connected finger pointing. In the case of the 20-year-delayed project I mentioned downthread, grid operators and approving authorities are pointing fingers at each other for slow and sloppy work with documents; and the line originally projected to enhance east-west connections, with a Hamburg-area nuclear power plant at one end, is now called Windsammelschiene (wind bus bar) to give the false impression that it only became necessary due to the spread of wind power.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 03:51:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope, only people I trust to be well informed making disparaging comments at the TV whenever the German grid is mentioned.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 04:25:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Trouble is all I can find is of the same level, too. In some pro-unbundling pieces, there are claims that the grid is underfuded and in a bad shape, with the only specific detail I saw was that the maintenance budget is dwarfed by grid use tariff income, but there is no source or context.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 04:34:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but their failures are randomly and independently distributed. This is not true for the main cause of intermittent operations of wind plants. The strength of the wind is quite correlated in large areas.

So what? Conventional baseload plants also have the trait of being much bigger, thus a single failure or maintenance shutdown is a significant grid event. You could talk about the relative distribution functions, or about the difference in the pattern and spectrum of fluctuations.

However, even under the current conditions, capacities are strained

Yes, but not as much as claimed by certain circles; see my Enron diary.

and construction of massive new grid capacities is already meeting stiff resistance.

This argument is overblown to the extent that it sounds like an excuse. (And now a tool; with Rösler seizing on the opportunity to call for the easing of environmental restrictions.) There are 20-year-delayed power line projects in Germany with no significant counter-protests. There is also the issue of excessive coal plant production assumptions in the forecasts of the grid operators.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 05:55:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In what way are commons involved?
by Katrin on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 09:17:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is one grid. You cannot pay extra to get your power with extra reliability. The stability and reliability of the grid is a common good.

For power that is sold on a spot market there is also no incentive to provide reliability.

by oliver on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:08:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The real analysis of "the commons" shows that electricity is no longer a luxury, but a necessity second in importance to food and water. Somepeople keep medicines refrigerated, as one example.

Also in "the commons," even with very expensive scrubbers, which often are grandfathered away, are stack effluents which kill people, lakes, and forests.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:26:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Commons is not the same as common good, and "the tragedy of the commons" (a disputed concept anyway) refers to the commons, not the common good. Do you perhaps mix the two up, or am I just not getting something?
by Katrin on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:32:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, intermittent (wind) plant should be penalised for its intermittency.

What about the intermittent gas plants mentioned by Jérôme? Their intermittency is discretionary : they turn on the juice when they can maximise their profit. They certainly don't provide power "on demand". In your opinion, how should they be penalised for their intermittency?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 09:28:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If an operator does not agree to provide power at a certain price in advance with an agreed relability he should be penalized.
by oliver on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:02:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not with a smart grid built to accommodate generation intermittency. Not to even begin to discuss the demand side of a smarkt grid.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:28:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If an operator does not agree to provide power at a certain price in advance with an agreed relability he should be penalized.

And in fact they are. Renewables are penalized for intermittency by receiving a lower than the average clearing price per MWh, while new coal and nuke plants are penalized by not being built.

The free-riders under the current system are the fully amortized brown coal plants, who - because they face low marginal costs and do not face the threat of liquidation due to momentary cashflow shortfalls - can sell baseload at the average clearing price rather than a lower feed-in rate.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 07:34:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The various producers are rewarded only for momentary conditions. The public service they provide or do not provide in case of intermittent sources is not rewarded or punished for.

False.

Required reading for anyone who wants to opine on pricing systems and market structure for electricity production.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 11:03:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your reply is quite generic.

Anyway what mechanism exists to make power companies build gas plants for the worst case?

by oliver on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:00:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your reply is quite generic.

That blue text in the comments? That's links. They typically provide details, references, related material, or, as in this case, relevant background knowledge for the discussion you are engaged in.

If you can't make a good-faith effort to read a minimum of relevant background material, why should I believe that creating an original text for your benefit will yield results commensurate with the effort it would require?

Anyway what mechanism exists to make power companies build gas plants for the worst case?

Under the current market structure, they get paid a much higher price per MWh than baseload plants, because they can exploit low capital and idling costs to only produce at peak price.

It would also be possible to pay explicitly for "capacity available at N minutes' notice." Some grids do that, and it is not obvious that they are overpaying for or undersupplied with capacity relative to the European grid.

But in fact insufficient gas-fired capacity is not a problem in the contemporary European grid. The problem, rather, is that there is too much gas capacity, such that some gas turbines are being run as baseload. Nor is gas being underbuilt: Roughly half of all new capacity constructed is gas-fired (gas delivers substantially less than half of all MWh from new plants, but that is in the nature of peaker plants).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 07:51:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fantastic take down of the pompous Economist article.

A minor quibble with your write-up: semantically it is much closer to reality to refer to renewables as variable rather than intermittent.

Intermittent is feeding the anti-renewables propaganda as it implies something that starts and stops unpredictably while the reality is that renewables (for the vast majority of them) are operating with on a gradient that is both broadly predictable and similarly addressed to the inherent variability of electricity demand (no-one calls demand intermittent when in fact you switch on a 2 kW boiler suddenly...)

Orthodoxy is not a religion.

by BalkanIdentity (balkanid _ at _ google.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 02:09:46 AM EST
Let The Wind Credit Die


"[Romney] will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits," a spokesperson for the Romney campaign told the Des Moines Register.
....
"We should not be in the business of steering investment toward particular politically favored approaches," Romney notes on his campaign website. "That is a recipe for both time and money wasted on projects that do not bring us dividends. The failure of wind mills and solar plants to become economically viable or make a significant contribution to our energy supply is a prime example."

If you keep repeating lies long enough...

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 07:51:55 AM EST
Crazy Horse:
"We should not be in the business of steering investment toward particular politically favored approaches,"

like we republicans have been doing for fossil fuels and nuclear for decades, absolutely. that's not political favourisation, it's business.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 08:10:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From Climate Progress:

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/07/29/597061/many-happy-returns-for-big-oil-romneys-policies-c ould-hand-oil-companies-another-4-billion-a-year/

Main oil companies get a 2400 millions break, while their  profits are 137 billions.

res humà m'és aliè

by Antoni Jaume on Wed Aug 1st, 2012 at 12:34:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well, as a (mostly) proud Democrat, I will have to admit that we are (almost) as guilty as the Republicans in this regard.
by jam on Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 09:07:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One could just say

The Economist is a sad hack job.

Period.

by cagatacos on Thu Aug 2nd, 2012 at 07:23:50 PM EST
"The Economist" and "sad hack job".  Isn't that redundant?
by rifek on Sun Aug 5th, 2012 at 11:21:12 PM EST
Officially in construction. today Bremerhaven:

Loading tripods for their Areva Wind turbine foundations. You can imagine their scale if you imagine the size of the tugboat captain in his command deck. I'm smaller than than the joint between the cross bar and main leg, or at least i was last time i was there.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 02:13:31 PM EST


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